Seen Paris and New York? Done Tokyo and London?
If you’re looking for the buzz of a big city with something a bit different, might we suggest Mexico City? The Zocalo, or city square, is the centre of activity and one of the features that defines Ciudad de México from other nations’ capitals. Surrounded by imposing European-style buildings, including the
massive Metropolitan Cathedral, the Zocalo is the stage for street vendors and performers: watch out for groups of Aztec dancers in huge feather headdresses and jangling anklets, and breathe in – that bewitching, pine-like scent you can smell is copal, tree resin that the dancers burn in cleansing
Along with the ruins of a temple built hundreds of years ago by the Mexica people, the streets surrounding the Zocalo house shops such as traditional pasteleria, where cakes of gravity-defying heights are displayed alongside empanadas and other baked snacks, and bustling perfume shops where you can design your own scent (although this is probably best attempted only if you’re fluent in Spanish). Among the numerous impressive historical buildings is the Casa de los Azulejos, or House of Blue Tiles, which is now home to Sanborns, an old-school department store whose mural-clad dining rooms draw locals and tourists alike.
It may come as a surprise, but the largest city in Latin America claims more museums and galleries than any other city in the world, along with historic colonial architecture and boulevards comparable to those of European capitals. There’s art of all kinds, and fans of Frida Kahlo’s sartorial style are in
for a treat, with displays of traditional Mexican dress at the Museo de Arte Popular, the Museo Franz Mayer and of course at the artist’s house, which is now an extremely popular museum – book tickets online for a morning slot and head to the garden before entering the house if you want to get some
crowd-free photos in the brilliant blue walled courtyard.
Greenery abounds in the city, and one of the most popular destinations for Mexicans and visitors is Bosque de Chapultepec. This massive park provides a much-needed nature fix thanks to its shady trees, and it also contains cultural institutions such as the Museum of Anthropology and Chapultepec Castle. Add the botanical gardens and several galleries and it’s easy to spend at least a day here in leafy surroundings that are surprisingly quiet for a capital city.
Another way to escape the bustle is to take to the skies in a hot air balloon to float over the pyramids at Teotihuacan. Cruising in the quiet dawn from the launch site over prickly pear farms and churches, seeing colourful open-air markets come to life and then drifting above this historic site is a bucket-list worthy experience. The volcanoes and mountains in the misty distance form a view that’s worth the pre-dawn wake-up call. Couturing discovered this tour through El Patio 77, our home for the duration of our Mexico City stay.
Located a short walk from two Metro stations, this boutique B&B is one of the city’s only eco-aware accommodation options, with solar panels, upcycled furnishings such as old screen doors fitted to shower cubicles and plans for the delicious breakfasts to be prepared from organic, local ingredients in the near future. Here, it feels more like staying with friends than at a hotel, with the friendly staff always happy to answer questions and give recommendations, and the communal breakfast room a welcome source of companionship and travel tips. But there’s plenty of privacy too in the spacious rooms that are decorated to reflect their names – wooden fish grace the walls in the suite named for Veracruz, a port city, and butterflies decorate the room that represents Michoacan, a region to which tourists flock to view the pretty insects.
The property, in a traditional residence complete with a courtyard garden hidden behind the huge metal entryway, is the work of Taller Lu’um, an interior design consultancy which also runs an NGO that works with artisans around the country. Those interested in design and unique souvenirs can visit the showroom, not far from El Patio 77, to see how traditional skills in ceramics and textiles have been interpreted for a contemporary audience. Speaking of shopping, if you love markets, this is the place for you. Whether you’re after foodie treats such as spices and chocolate or fun, inexpensive accessories like basket bags and embroidered blouses, you’ll find it at one of the many bustling markets in the city. And if you simply like to browse, check out Lagunilla, the sprawling flea market that takes place every Sunday in the neighbourhood around Lagunilla Metro station. With stalls selling vintage clothing, mid-century furniture, jewellery and bric-a-brac such as batches of tin whistles from the 70s and Mexican beer memorabilia, it’s just like Ciudad de México itself – all the big ticket items you’d expect from a capital city, plus all the surprises that make for great holiday memories.